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Deontay Wilder First Member of Heavyweight Troika to Test the ‘Rule of Three’ 

Bernard Fernandez

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There is a commonly accepted notion that “good things always come in threes.” The so-called “Rule of Three” principle suggests things that come in threes somehow are inherently more humorous, satisfying and effective than any other numerical grouping.

For those who dismiss such a blanket proposition out of hand, consider the following: beloved nursery rhymes (Three Little Pigs), classic literature (the Bronte sisters and Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers), the Bible (Ecclesiastes 4:12 holds that “a cord with three strands is not quickly broken”) and entertainment (what little kid did not love three-ring circuses?). In sports, baseball’s three best centerfielders (Willie, Mickey and The Duke) once all played in the same city, New York, and one of them, Mickey Mantle, won the batting Triple Crown in 1956. Golf’s popularity on television skyrocketed in the 1960s with the emergence of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as a “Big Three” whose revered members always seemed to be bunched atop the leader board for the final round of major tournaments.

Boxing’s heavyweight equivalent to Arnie, Jack and Gary arose to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s, with Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and George Foreman held in higher public esteem than others in the big-man division, and demonstrating why they should have been with their dominating performances in the ring. To be fair, Larry Holmes’ eventual emergence as a great champion expanded the Big Three to a Big Four, but his prime did not intersect as neatly with those of his peers to fully validate his delayed inclusion into that particular era’s golden circle.

There is another saying – what goes around, comes around – that would appear to have merged with the Rule of Three as the heavyweight division again has separated itself into tiers, with undefeated champions Deontay Wilder (40-0-1, 39 KOs), Anthony Joshua (22-0, 21 KOs) and Tyson Fury (27-0-1, 19 KOs) ensconced at a level well above that of a secondary group scrambling for improved position and possible upgrades. The good news is that the current Big Three all have bouts scheduled within a 29-day period, offering fight fans a chance to observe and compare their relative strengths and weaknesses as to which chest-thumping titlist deserves to be widely recognized as the best of the bunch.

The bad news is that this latest elite group of three will not be going head-to-head in any of the matchups, instead engaging seemingly lesser opponents in contests whose outcomes at first glance would appear to be preordained. Should any of the longshots cash a winning ticket, as was the case in the recent Kentucky Derby, when 65-to-1 outsider Country House was declared the winner after an in-race foul kept the wagering favorite, Maximum Security, from having a blanket of roses placed around his neck, the hoped-for round-robin elimination process  involving Wilder, Joshua and Fury will take a major hit.

Wilder, the WBC titlist, gets things started this Saturday night when he takes on his mandatory challenger, former football player Dominic Breazeale (20-1, 18 KOs), in the Showtime-televised main event at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. But while the outrageous Wilder is hyping that fight by suggesting he will literally and gleefully beat Breazeale to death, the result of some sort of personal animosity stemming from an out-of-the-ring confrontation in an Alabama hotel lobby in 2017, his thoughts never seem to stray far from Joshua and Fury, the principal roadblocks in his path to clear recognition as the No. 1 guy. And as everyone familiar with Buster Douglas’ shocker over an underprepared and unmotivated Mike Tyson understands, peering too far ahead into the future instead of concentrating on the present can have dire consequences.

“Hey, Dominic Breazeale asked for this,” Wilder told reporters after a recent workout at Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn. “I didn’t go seek him, he sought me so if (death) comes, it comes. This is a brutal sport, this is not a gentleman’s sport. I keep saying this is not a gentleman’s sport. I’m still trying to get a body on my record. This is the only sport where you can kill a man and get paid for it at the same time. It’s legal, so why not use my right to do so?”

Such intemperate and inflammatory remarks do not cast Wilder in a positive light, just as the then-19-year-old Mike Tyson, following his brutal, fifth-round knockout of Jesse Ferguson, with a ripping right uppercut, eventually came to regret his comment that “I wanted to drive his nose bone up into his brain.” Oh, and Wilder should be aware by now that fighters who actually did fatally pummel opponents, such as the late Emile Griffith and Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini, were consumed with remorse for the remainder of their careers.

Wilder’s latest vow of violence might be extreme even for him, but he does have a sledgehammer right hand and his knockout ratio of 97.5 percent is highest among all heavyweight champions. But even should Wilder add Breazeale to his list of victims who were unable to go the distance, this supposed grudge match only matters in terms of how far another KO for the lean Alabaman advances the needle concerning a rematch with Fury or a full unification showdown with Joshua.

It took a 12th-round knockdown of Fury, the lineal champion, for Wilder to salvage a split draw in their classic bout of Dec. 1, 2018, which all but screamed for a second pairing to be made sooner rather than later. But Fury chose to sign a co-promotional deal with Top Rank and its broadcast partner ESPN, putting him on the other side of a fence and raising doubts that the much-anticipated do-over would ever take place. And as far as a clear-the-decks meeting involving Wilder and Joshua, each side contends it is the other gumming up the works with protracted negotiations that never seem to reach a resolution amenable to all parties.

“He didn’t want (a rematch), that’s why he’s fighting another guy,” Wilder said of Fury, who takes on German Tom Schwarz (24-0, 16 KOs), who is a household name mainly in his own household, on June 15 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. “He didn’t want that fight, or it would have been happening. I wouldn’t have had to fight my mandatory. I would have went straight to Fury.

“I hurt Tyson Fury very badly. I gave him a concussion. When you got a man who don’t understand how he got on the ground, or how he got up, his brain has been shook. He don’t need that fight again. Hey, if you need a warmup or a tuneup to see if all your marbles are back in place, go do that. Take as many warmups you need. (Fury) said he’s got three more fights and he’s out of here. If one of those fights is me, I’m gonna finish him. I’m gonna finish the job.”

And Joshua, the super heavyweight gold medalist for the United Kingdom at the 2012 London Olympics? The big Briton makes his American debut on June 1 at Madison Square Garden against pudgy Mexican-American Andy Ruiz Jr. (32-1, 21 KOs), who will be filling in for Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller, who failed three drug tests in quick succession and was obliged to relinquish his slot.

“With Joshua, for four months we tried (to reach a contractual accord),” Wilder said. “But it don’t matter. I’m more exciting than (Fury and Joshua). Those guys don’t bring excitement like I bring. Tyson Fury is the most boring one. I just do what I do best, and it’s to knock guys silly. I’m not in competition with none of them.”

But for any member of the Big Three to claim superiority over the others without competing against them is misleading at best, and fraudulent at worst. These are fights that require no further marinating, and even the party crashers they are likely to dispatch in the immediate future are like appetizers that shouldn’t satisfy fight fans’ hunger, or their own.

Nibbling on the hors d’oeuvres for now will have to do, but the doors to the banquet hall remain closed. Until that changes, the Big Three heavyweights are like solitary occupants of their own little islands, wondering, like the rest of us, who deserves to rule the archipelago.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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